We were first introduced to the Asus Zenbook UX31 back in late 2011 and last year, Asus introduced a new wave of Zenbooks, one of which was an improved version of the UX31, the Asus Zenbook UX31A, which is now equipped with an Intel Ivy Bridge processor, a higher-resolution screen and now comes with Windows 8.
We were already pretty impressed with the original Zenbook UX31, so we certainly have been looking forward to checking out the same ultrabook design with some seriously improved internals. The UX31A is extremely light at 3.08lbs, has a 50Whr battery, and it also happens to have an Intel Core i7 processor inside of it. Could this be the ultrabook that will raise the bar for others to try to beat? There’s only one way to find out, so let’s get down to our review, shall we?
Owning a MacBook Pro for work, laptops are extremely important to me as there’d be no way I’d be able to pay the bills without being able to write, edit video and produce regular content for this fine website. The power of a laptop is important to me as I need it to edit video and play the occasional modern-day video game like SimCity or Call of Duty: Black Ops.
Portability is also extremely important to me in a laptop as I often attend events both in New York City and in remote locations. Lugging around a heavy laptop is not my idea of a good time, so the lighter it is, the happier my back will be.
Lastly, a laptop’s keyboard is also of importance considering a good portion of my day is spent writing stories. If a laptop’s keyboard doesn’t feel right, it could ruin my workflow, meaning you won’t get to read as many exciting and interesting stories from moi.
Just to clarify, I’ve been reviewing a number of laptops recently so I’ll certainly spend a bit of time comparing it to others I’ve used in the past, but just wanted you to know what I currently own and use on a regular basis for my day-to-day work.
13.3″ Full HD IPS (1920×1080) with multi-touch screen (350 nits brightness)
Intel® Core i7-3517U Processor 1.90GHz + Intel HD Graphics 4000
4GB DDR3 RAM 1600MHz
Windows 8 (64-bit)
802.11a/b/g/n + Bluetooth 4.0
2x USB 3.0, 1x audio jack combo, 1x SD card reader, 1 x mini VGA port, 1x micro HDMI 1.4 (1080p support)
337.82mm x 226.06mm x 11.176mm – 16.764mm (13.3 x 8.9 x 0.44-0.66 in.)
Official specifications on Asus.com
The Asus Zenbook is an extremely good looking ultrabook as the back of its display has a brushed silver in a circular pattern revolving around the Asus logo, which is made of a reflective material. The underside of the Zenbook features brushed aluminum with the ultrabook’s screws visible throughout its edges. Four rubber stumps are also located on the underside of the Zenbook, which slightly raises it in order to help it ventilate properly.
When you open the Zenbook, you’ll be greeted with its 13.3-inch display and brushed aluminum base which features black keys with white symbols and white backlighting. The top of the base is where the hinge for the display is located and features a mesh aluminum look, the bottom of which reflects some of the Zenbook’s exhausts. The bezel of the display gives a nice contrast to the brushed aluminum base, while at the same time accentuating the black keys. As we said, it’s a quite attractive ultrabook.
When you hold the Asus Zenbook UX31A, it feels pretty light and can easily be held in one hand if you need to for a few moments. It sits comfortably in your lap and the amount of heat it produces when it’s churning out some serious work is slightly warm, but in no way should be a cause for concern. Nothing about the Zenbook feels cheap as every inch of it gives a premium feel all in a light ultrabook.
Keyboard: As I mentioned earlier in this review, a laptop’s keyboard is extremely important to me as I spend a large portion of my day typing. The Asus Zenbook’s keyboards are extremely comfortable to work on as they offer a nice feel as their feedback is clicky, but I can feel a small amount of sponginess at the end of each key press. It’s very slight and won’t make you fingers fatigued when using it for several hours. Each key is made of a smooth material with an extremely slight texture to each key’s symbol and its backlighting also adds a nice touch as it makes the Zenbook even more aesthetically pleasing.
The palm rests feel really nice thanks to the brushed aluminum material, although the edges of the Zenbook are a tad too sharp for my taste. When your palms reach its edges, its sharp enough to notice, but not enough to be considered uncomfortable. The bottom of the Zenbook has a smoother transition from its edge to the base, so I’m curious to know why Asus didn’t bring that smoothness to the top-portion of the base?
The Zenbook’s trackpad feels a bit smoother than the brushed aluminum surrounding it and allows your fingers to slide all over with very little effort. You can input a left-mouse click simply by tapping the trackpad, or by clicking it on the bottom left portion, if you feel more comfortable using it that way. Right-mouse clicks are input by clicking on the bottom-right portion of the trackpad.
Ports: The ports on the Asus Zenbook are all located at the back edges on the sides of the ultrabook. The left side is where you’ll find the Zenbook’s headphone out / audio in combo jack, USB 3.0 port and SD card reader, while the right side is where you’ll find AC adapter port, another USB 3.0 port, mini-VGA and a mini-HDMI port. Asus decided not to include an RJ-45 port for its Zenbook, but they include a USB dongle equipped with an RJ-45 port, in case you absolutely need to hardwire into a network.
We’ve seen a number of ultrabooks feature a Full HD (1920 x 1080) screen and each time we review one, our eyes still are in awe by just how gorgeous the 1080p display is. The Asus Zenbook’s display also has IPS technology, which means the viewing angles on it are very good as well as we noticed no degradation in image quality when viewing the display at multiple angles.
The Zenbook’s display has a 350 nit brightness which we found to be comfortable to work on at around 20% – 30% of its full brightness potential when its auto-brightness isn’t activated. At its brightest level, the Zenbook was easy to view when working outdoors making this already portable ultrabook an even better experience with the inclusion of some fresh air.
The Asus Zenbook comes with a front-facing 720p HD webcam equipped with a CMOS module. In our camera tests, we put it up against the MacBook Pro (mid-2010) which is equipped with an iSight camera.
In our daylight camera test, we noticed the Asus Zenbook’s webcam provided a nice image, although it picks up a bit too much of natural light as the image it produced was a little too bright. Compared to the MBP’s image, the colors were a little better and image noise could only be detected at the extreme edges of the Zenbook’s image where some shadows were present.
Our low-light test resulted in the Zenbook’s image being completely dark with highlighted areas that came out red. Compared to the MBP’s low-light image under the same conditions, we can safely say we urge you to consider using the Zenbook’s webcam for late-night puppet shows or anything else you’d consider doing late at night, unless you have the proper lighting.
The Asus Zenbook UX31A has a powerful Intel i7 processor clocked at 1.9GHz with the often-used Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU assisting it with any graphical jobs. When I first used the Zenbook, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how powerful of an ultrabook it was and it looks like its benchmarks show exactly what it’s capable of.
One of the first benchmarks we like to run for PCs is PCMark 7 which is a benchmark used in order to simulate real-world tasks such as opening applications, booting up your computer and doing some mild graphical tasks.
In our PCMark 7 benchmark, the Asus Zenbook UX31A scored an extremely powerful 5070. This PCMark 7 score is the highest we’ve seen yet in our laptop tests, as it surpasses both the MacBook Pro w/ Retina (2012) and even the Microsoft Surface Pro, which both scored a 4877 and 4848, respectively. This is by far one of the most powerful ultrabooks we’ve ever seen, and its score tells us it’ll handle a rather large amount of multitasking and barely show any signs of slowdown. During my time with the Zenbook, I can tell you this is certainly true just from using the ultrabook on a regular basis.
The second benchmark we like to run on our test machines is 3D Mark 11, which is a benchmark that is more demanding as its primary focus is how well it’ll perform as a gaming machine.. And we’re not talking Facebook or Flash-based games here as those tend to not demand so much from a system, but instead, actual games like Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed or any other current-generation games.
Ultrabooks aren’t known for being able to perform well in 3D Mark 11 tests, and even though the Zenbook UX31A did pretty well considering it has the Intel Graphics 4000 GPU in it with a score of P661 , it still shouldn’t be considered if gaming is a priority. Only low-powered graphical tasks should be performed with this Zenbook.
The final benchmark we like to run on our test machines is Geekbench, which isn’t a benchmark that tests the laptop with real-world applications, but instead squarely focuses on the CPU’s raw performance score by throwing mathematical equations that would turn the hair of a normal person as white as a ghost.
Even though the Asus Zenbook UX31A outperformed the MacBook Pro w/ Retina (2012), its Geekbench score of 6193 puts it pretty high in our chart when compared to other laptops, but nowhere near the power the MBP has. To be fair, though, the MBP is in no way an ultrabook, so the Zenbook performed extremely well for one. We should really compare it to the Macbook Air 13, and we’ll come back on that as soon as we can.
Value for the weight, price
We know when purchasing any PC, people tend to look at its internal specs and purchase a computer based on what they currently need. One factor many overlook is its weight as more powerful portable computers will most likely be heavier than PCs that aren’t as powerful. That’s why we also like to look at a PCs performance relative to its weight so we can see if all of that power is worth you breaking your back over or if a PC’s weight isn’t worth its sub-par performance.
The Asus Zenbook UX31A is a pretty light ultrabook as it weighs only 3.08lbs and when you factor in just how much performance you can get out of it, it’s no surprise it scored very well in this test as well. We can easily recommend the Zenbook when you consider its performance for its weight.
Battery life: excellent!
An ultrabook as powerful as the Asus Zenbook UX31A would probably mean it has terrible battery life, but that is quite the opposite in this case as it has an included 50Whr battery which should be enough to keep you working for several hours. The first battery test we ran on the Zenbook was a long-term battery test under the conditions of leaving its Wi-Fi on, its screen brightness at 50% and just leaving it on to see how far its battery depletes. In this test, we were able to get 10 hours of battery life out of the Zenbook.
We know you’re probably going to want to actually use the Zenbook, which is why we run additional battery tests where videos are played to see how far its battery would drain. The first video test was done under the conditions of playing a 1080p local video with 50% screen brightness for an hour and noted a 17% drop in battery life, which means you can expect 5.8 hours of battery for local videos. As for streaming videos, we watched a 1080p YouTube video with 50% screen brightness for an hour and noted a 22% drop in battery life, which means you can expect 4.5 hours of battery for streaming videos.
Battery Charge (very good)
The time it takes to fully charge the battery of the Asus Zenbook UX31A doesn’t take too long as we noted it took around 3 hours to charge from 0% – 100%, although this isn’t the best we’ve seen in ultrabooks. It should still be considered very good, especially when it’ll lasts for around 10 hours on a full battery charge.
Conclusion (the ultimate ultrabook)
The Asus Zenbook UX31A has everything we’ve ever wanted in an ultrabook. It has stunning good looks, is extremely powerful, has long-battery life and is very light. It really doesn’t get any better than this, which is why we’re going to have an extremely hard time giving it back once our time with it is over.
One of our few concerns with the Zenbook was its edges as when we were working with it, we felt the edges of the palm rests could be a tad smoother. Considering how fantastic of an ultrabook this is, this is a concern we can easily overlook when you factor in just how much the Zenbook gets right. If you’re in the market for an ultrabook and can afford it, the Asus Zenbook UX31A should be high in your consideration list.
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